Television Espanola (TVE) is one of the first ports of call for Spanish producers and one of Europe's leading buyers of third-party titles. Last year, the public free-to-air broadcaster screened 98% of all Spanish films shown on local television. Highlights included Pedro Almodovar's Volver (3 million viewers) and Vicente Aranda's historical drama Juana La Loca (2.6 million).
Those kinds of numbers have inspired TVE to pre-buy a slew of high-profile Spanish projects and co-productions including Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biutiful, Almodovar's Broken Embraces, Fernando Trueba's The Dancer And The Thief and Claudia Llosa's Berlin Golden Bear-winner The Milk Of Sorrow. It also acquires high-profile European titles such as Germany's Oscar winner The Lives Of Others and Italy's Cannes hit Gomorrah.
'We either buy bigger films with a large audience potential or we buy smaller films (such as Agusti Villaronga's coming-of-age tale Pa Negre) which address the public service criteria that TVE, as a public television broadcaster, has to meet,' explains Gustavo Ferrada, the former Sogecine producer who joined TVE as head of the film arm in 2007. 'We will spend around half of our film budget on the first type of film and half on the second.'
Despite the cushion of public funding, TVE also relies on advertising revenue and is not untouched by the economic downturn. 'We expect our spending to be reduced by around 15% in 2009 to $34m (EUR25m) compared with $39m (EUR29m) in 2008,' Ferrada explains. 'We will pre-buy some 35 features this year, down from 42 in 2008.'
TVE also acts as the international sales agent on some titles. 'We bought TV and DVD rights for Spain to Joaquin Oristrell's comedy Mediterranean Food, and also all rights for all territories excluding Spanish theatrical,' says Ferrada. 'We screened it for the first time at EFM in Berlin where we sold some territories, including France, Brazil and Germany.'
TVE's commitment to film is in contrast to the rest of Spain's broadcasters, many of which are cutting their acquisition budgets due to plummeting viewing figures. Telecinco has pulled out of film completely. (Every Spanish broadcaster screening films has to invest 5% of its annual revenues back into European films.)
'We have found that good Spanish and foreign films, well programmed, often perform very well,' says Jose Antonio Anton, TVE's director of programme acquisitions.
The two are also pushing for local film producers to make more TV movies for their primetime slots. 'The Spanish box office is shrinking and Spanish fiction is working really well on TV,' says Ferrada.
Ferrada and Anton have been key to TVE's sustained film drive since joining the broadcaster in 2007. While Anton's background is in broadcasting (he enjoyed stints at TeleMadrid where he helped launch the digital channels in the late 1990s, Fox Television Studios in LA and the AXN Channel in Spain), Ferrada's producer credits at Sogecine include Isabel Coixet's Those Who Love (1998) and Antonio Banderas' Summer Rain (2006).
Both Anton and Ferrada attend all the major festivals and markets, including Cannes, Berlin and the AFM. Anton will be at this week's Miptv.